Six Steps for Writing eLearning Narration
An eLearning course is only as good as the content it presents. Like any form of communication, if the content fails to resonate with the audience, users or learners; the course will fall flat. Although a large portion of the eLearning development process is dedicated to visual design, it can only be successful if the content is also in alignment with it.
For most new eLearning developers, the task of writing their first draft of narration can be very daunting. So many variables must be taken into consideration – everything from meeting the learning objectives, writing in a conversational tone, developing content that can be easily communicated visually, figuring out where to incorporate interactivity, and much more. All of this can easily leave a new eLearning developer overwhelmed and wondering where to start.
Although there is a specific type of writing style for drafting eLearning narration, which plays a big part in the process, I’ll be focusing on that in a part-two post related to that topic. For today, I’d like to focus simply on the higher-level process of writing your first draft narration – more specifically, how to gather and organize raw content, and transform it into a review-ready document for your business partners.
For this, I’ve outlined six simple steps that I follow when developing narration. If you’re new to eLearning development and narration writing, these six steps will help guide you through the process and make it far less overwhelming.
Step One: Gather
The first step in my six step process for writing a first draft of eLearning narration, is to gather the content. Typically, this occurs within the first few meetings with your business partner(s) and/or subject matter experts (SMEs). Whether or not you’ve established learning objectives at this point, your goal here is to understand what your business partner’s want/need (which are two very different things), define the learning gap(s) and establish a personal understanding of the content from the SME’s point of view.
When gathering content, remember to:
- Interview your SME and ask questions. Even if you’re familiar with the content, think about the learner’s point of view and never assume anything.
- If possible, interview more than one SME. This will help prevent your content from being littered with opinions on how others think the process should be completed. Get to the truth.
- Determine if any formal best practices exists for the process(s) you are attempting to teach. Formally documented best practices will be your best source for reliable content (most of the time).
- Talk to the learners and find out what they already know about the learning topic(s). You may discover that they already possess a lot of knowledge regarding the topic. Determine what it is that they really need to learn – you’ll be surprised at what they’ll tell you versus the SME.
- If possible/applicable, research the topic outside the confines of your organization. Discover what other content is out there and see how others have trained on the topic – Google it!
Step Two: Organize
The second step is to organize your content. Typically, this is where new eLearning designers start getting overwhelmed. For example, you’ve just had a ton of documents, half-written notes, varying opinions and everything in-between thrown at you, and now you’re expected to mold it into a cohesive and outstanding eLearning course – who wouldn’t be overwhelmed!
My process for outlining content is simple:
- Start by organizing the content in visual space. Assign a sticky note for each major topic and start making groups/comparisons.
- Organize sub/supporting topics below each main topic.
- Lastly, once you’ve organized your main content areas, insert your introduction/conclusion slides. Then decide where you want to insert knowledge checks, simulations and other interactions, etc.
Step Three: Draft
The third step, and perhaps the most time-intensive step in the narration writing process, is to start drafting your content. This is where you’ll take the outline you’ve created and start filling in the blanks with the content you gathered in the first step from your SME. As I previously mentioned, the success of this is also dependent on mastering the “narration writing style,” which I’ll write about in a future post.
For this, I’ll stick to a few simple tips. When drafting narration, remember to:
- Use a standard format. I like to draft my narration in this MS Word template I created.
- Write content so that it can be easily communicated visually. Remember, anything you write will need to be conveyed on the screen in some form.
- Don’t forget to include transitional/instructional statements to help guide your learner and identify key statement that can be used as on-screen text.
- Remember, the narration must be read and recorded by an individual. Don’t write content that isn’t conducive to this. For example, words in parentheses or acronyms.
- When in doubt, just open a word document and start typing – you’re bound to end up with something useful!
Steps Four & Five: Review & Revise
The fourth and fifth steps in the narration drafting process go hand-in-hand. As I’ve mentioned in several of my previous posts, the eLearning development process is meant to be collaborative between you and your business partners. It is critical that they play a role in the content-development process and are given a chance to provide input.
- Once you’ve completed your first draft of narration, before sharing it with your business partner(s), share it with a colleague or someone who can provide impartial input and check it for spelling/grammar errors.
- If possible, meet with your business partners in person to present them the draft content. This provides you the opportunity to explain how the content is organized and written. This is abundantly helpful if they’ve never reviewed eLearning narration before.
- Provide each reviewer their own hard copy of the draft.
- Be specific as to what you expect from them as reviewers (i.e., review the content for accuracy, make edits on the hard copy with a red pen, etc.).
- If time permits, give your business partners at least a week to review the draft on their own time.
- When it’s time to receive their edits, again, try to meet in person. This will allow you to review each of their edits and ask questions. When working with multiple reviewers, make sure their edits don’t conflict with one another. If they do, put it back in the hands of your business partners to sort out.
- Lastly, repeat the review and revise process until you reach a point where you and your business partners are both happy with the content.
Step Six: Finalize
The sixth and final step in the eLearning narration writing process, is to finalize the narration with your business partners. This is a very critical step in the process, as it allows you to move forward with the project. Remember, the development of your slides/graphics/visual elements are dependent on your narration, so it’s important that you’re working with finalized content before moving too far along in the project.
The only major tip I have for finalizing content, is to obtain a firm understanding with your business partners/SMEs that the finalized content is used to develop the visual aspects of the project. They must understand, any additional changes to the narration content can have a large impact on the visual development of the course, which can create additional work and extend the timeline/scope of the project.
So, those are my six steps for writing your fist draft of eLearning narration. These steps won’t get you around every roadblock you’ll encounter while writing narration, but they should help you better anticipate them.
As I mentioned, stay tuned for a part-two post related to this topic, on the narration writing style.